Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tolkien's Jonah

So, the current issue of THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES (Vol. 4 No. 2) finally arrived a week ago Monday, and it was well worth the wait.

First and foremost, it provides us with a new Tolkien text: his translation of THE BOOK OF JONAH for the England-language version of THE JERUSALEM BIBLE -- not the version published back in 1966, which it turns out was reworked by another hand (one Alan Neame, responsible for imposing a consistent style on the Old Testament section), but the text as Tolkien himself submitted it to Alexander Jones, the project's editor. In addition, an accompanying essay by Brendon N. Wolfe (the J.I.S.'s Tolkien editor) provides background and context to Tolkien's involvement in the project. There are plenty of quotes from Jones's letters to Tolkien, but unfortunately not of Tolkien's side of the correspondence (which wd have figured largely into the previous, unsuccessful attempt to publish Tolkien's JONAH). We learn that Tolkien did a translation of the first chapter of ISAIAH as a sample, though only two verses from this are included in Wolfe's essay. Also, and rather surprisingly, that Tolkien was against using "thee" and "thou" in this project, given that he skews towards the archaic in his own translations. As Jason Fisher has pointed out, Tolkien does use an unusual word at one point, describing the vine that grows to shade the prophet as a "colocynth", a word few readers of his text would have recognized (it's a plant better known as a bitter apple or, most colorfully, the vine of Sodom, a sort of desert melon). Here's the link to Jason's piece (the comments to which are also interesting):

All I have to add to this is that the translation/adaptation of JONAH Tolkien was probably most familiar with, the Gawain-poet's PATIENCE, opts for the familiar and homey over the exotic and strange, calling it a wodbynde (woodbine, a kind of honeysuckle)

Finally, it was news to me that the poet Roy Campbell would probably have been one of the translators but died before beginning work on his section (the 'Song of Songs') --though given Campbell's reputation it might be just as well that his name was not associated with the project.

As for the rest of the issue, it includes what must be one of the final pieces by the late Stratford Caldecott as well as a lengthy piece on CSL's weird claim that Jesus can't be viewed as a great but non-divine teacher; it's interesting to see how Baynes, the author, places Lewis within a tradition that was skeptical of claims for Biblical inerrancy but accepting of the miracles at the core of the Xian story --v. much 'mere Christianity' as Lewis understood it.

Best of all, perhaps,*  is the announcement in the editorial of this issue of a new venture by the folks behind THE JOURNAL OF INKLINGS STUDIES, a series publishing for the first time major works by various Inklings such as Warnie Lewis's MEMOIR of his brother (extracts of which served as a Foreword to the 1966 edition of CSL's LETTERS), the complete GREAT WAR philosophical papers by Barfield and Lewis (presently known only through Lioney Adey's excellent summary and explication), and Barfield's long poem RIDERS ON PEGASUS (a.k.a. 'The Mother of Pegasus'). Here's hoping this series gets established and thrives: not only are all these projects eminently worthwhile but any Inklings scholar or serious fan of their works can easily think of other titles worthy to be added to that list.

--John R.
current reading: THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (comics)

*(aside from the publication of Tolkien's JONAH itself, of course)

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